Fiction

All the Fun of the Fair

J. D. PETER October 15 1952
Fiction

All the Fun of the Fair

J. D. PETER October 15 1952

All the Fun of the Fair

Ricky knew that one hall in the bull's-eye would knock the black boy into the water. But how could he help to lift up a whole race?

J. D. PETER

RICKY squatted on his haunches, balancing a stone in each hand, watching the dully gleaming blade of the spade bite into the chocolate earth and the rough sour sea grass, his eyes screwed up against the wind and the dazzle of the sun. John Makanya dug on steadily, his clean white shirt bellying from his shoulders as he stooped. They were both silent. Into the silence the wind blew a swirl of raucous music from the fair over the hill. Glancing up into the black face Ricky found it so impassive that he wondered whether his questions had angered the Zulu. He rose and picked up an empty jam jar lying in the grass, balancing it on one of the fence

“Look here, John. I’ll show you how straight I can throw. Bet you I knock that off in five shots."

The spade paused. "You better throw at something else. Baas Reecky. You don't want fragments of glass lying in the grass. Look" — Makanya shook the soil from a rusty can he had turned up—“try thees." He set it up on the fence post.

Ricky retired to the other end of the garden and began throwing. He did it extraordinarily well and the third stone took the can olf the post with a smack and a clatter.

“HekeT’ said Makanya politely. It was plain

he wasn’t interested. Ricky squatted down once more at the edge of the dug patch and resumed t he conversation.

"But if you had a scholarship why didn’t you go back to college? Can’t you still go?”

"Yes. Of course I can go." Makanya sounded almost detached. "I do not want to go."

"But that’s silly. Surely it doesn't make all that dilference just because you’re black ’”

"Law ees not the occupation for a Kaffir."

"1 don’t see why not. Katfirs will do everything one day. when they’ve got sense like you."

"Eet ees a very far-off day.” Makanya stared out to sea for a minute. Then he raised his hand and [minted. “You see the horizon. Baas Reecky. Eet ees blue above and blue underneath, hut we see eet as a line, do we not'.’ Who weell take thet line away?”

Ricky scowled at the water. Most of the dazzle had been blown otf it by the wind and along the shore the surf was lashing up putfs of spray.

RICKY! Ricky where are you?” I’is sister Ellen, a tall girl, pretty, with a tanned skin and fair hair that sea-bathing had coarsened, came round the corner of the house and frowned when she caught sight of him.

"Really Ricky, you’re the limit. It’s four o’clock.

What about mother’s present?” Then she said sternly to Makanya, "John you’re not to keep him hanging about. He's got to buy a present for the missus. It’s her birthday tomorrow.” She turned to her brother. "Where’s the money I gave you’’ I suppose you've lost it already.”

"No of course I haven’t." Ricky produced a half crown from the pocket of his khaki shorts and showed it to her. "Anyway it’s not much. You can’t get much for half-a-crown.”

You can get a good deal more for half-a-crown than vou can get for nothing." said his sister tartly. "Next year you might try saving your own money for a change. Come on now. hurry up."

She watched him irritably as he walked slowly otf down the path and out at the gate.

For heaven's sake try to get something reasonable." she called after him. " And you're not to go to the fairground I know vou 't ou II spend it or lose it." She shook her head and glanced at John Makanva who had turned his hack and was digging again. Then she went indoors, slamming t he door behind her

Ricky had paid no attention. Fie walked on, kicking at the tussocks of the grass, whistling. The path was sandy with shells in it. and as he walked he [licked up pieces of shell and threw them at the [insts of i he Continued on page 28

CONTINUED FROM PACE 15

fences. But they were too light and the wind caught them and blew them aside in a curve. As he went up the ! slope from the house the snatches of I martial music grew more and more I distinct. .Soon he breasted the rise and the din of the fair swelled up and rioted in his ears. For a time he stood I looking down on the brilliant tents and pavilions, the whirling black-and-white I roundabout and the flying swings.

Then he broke into a run and went I pelting down the grassy incline toward

It was sixpence to get into the ground. That left him two shillings. He slipped the silver coins into his pocket. He knew what he had to do,

I but how exactly was it to be done?

I Well, he would have to reconnoitre.

! Somewhere in the fairground there ¡ would be a stall where he could win more. It was not the time for excitement. he told himself. You had to be cool, you couldn't let yourself get I caught up. He put his hands in his I pockets, sauntering, suppressing the excitement that came surging up almost at once.

Overhead the swings spun wildly, their occupants shrieking. Everywhere Ricky turned there were barkers yelling, pleading, cajoling. There was the Whip, red as i fire engine, hurtling heavy cars round its thundering oval platform. The roundabout spun giddily. blurring to bluish grey, pouring its brazen music into the general hubbub. Maddened by the uproar around them two dogs rushed blindly past him, barking, barking without

Suddenly he stopped. There across the grass from him, in i long black tray, glittering sharply in the sunlight, a mess of diamonds was spread. He moved closer, dodging between the bystanders the sparkles in the tray dancing with every movement of his head. Lined up on the dusty black

velvet, rank after shining rank of them, he saw dozens—or was it hundreds? —of tiny fragile unbelievable figures. Pigs, birds, elephants, horses, antelopes. clowns—the whole of creation seemed to be there and all of it fashioned from the most delicate the frailest and finest glass he had ever seen. His breath caught as he leaned over the display. Though his fi-st impression had been of white brilliance he saw now that most of the models were tinted: honey-colored horses, pale green elephants, pink pigs.

He became aware of a droning toneless voice from the other side of the tray and. looking up. saw in the hot green shadow of the canvas a fat man with a bald head sitting hunched over an open lamp. The flame of the lamp was taut, hissing pale under pressure, and it yielded only slightly to the gusts of the wind. The bald man held what looked like a rod of red glass in the flame, twisting it. and then, interrupting his monologue to apply it to his mouth for a moment, blew a sudden pink bubble of glass. Holding the bubble in the flame with a small pair of tongs, and pausing occasionally to blow gently into the tube, he manipulated it quickly and adroitly, his commentary proceeding almost unchecked. Against the hissing of the flame and the windy noises of the fair his mumbled words were mostly inaudible but for Ricky it was enough to be able to watch the dexterity of his fingers. A final twist, a final snip with the tongs. Then a pale girl came forward and. taking the model from the glass blower’s hand, added yet another pink pig to the collection on the tray. The fat man picked up a cup of tea and sat sipping

Ricky was astonished that he could be so indifferent to the treasure that his hands had fashioned and his eyes returned wonderingly to the bright fragilities on the velvet in front of him. There was the latest pig. vivid in the sunlight with only a minute kink in the curl of its tail to differentiate it from the others. Was it possible the

fat man could have made all these? His eyes moved fascinatedly over the models and at once, for the first time, with a pang like cold water in his stomach, he saw his mother's present.

There were three of them slightly bigger than the other models and a little to one side of them. Windmills. All of clear white glass, their vanes a filigree of fine glass threads like cobwebs. Each had a tower of solid glass struts, with narrow braces crisscrossing between them, and each tower was topped off with a small glass ball. Taking the sunlight they flared with the white fire of ice. Ricky stood staring.

"And what can I do for you, sir?"

It was a few seconds before he realized that it was to him that the pale girl was speaking. She leaned over the tray toward him. her smile at once insinuating and bleak.

! "How much is a windmill?”

I "Oh yes. A windmill. Those are rather special, aren't they? Look." she said, spinning the vanes with her finger, "the sails go round too. Eight shillings and sixpence. Would you like one? Shall I wrap it?”

“No thanks. I won’t take it yet.” The girl, indifferent, drifted away.

RICKY felt that the two shillings in his pocket had suddenly become lighter and less substantial, but, at the same time, he wasn’t very surprised. You couldn’t expect to buy anything like one of those windmills cheap. People who had been watching the glass blowing were moving away,

the pale sirl had withdrawn into the shadow of the booth and the fat man seemed to be resting.

Hands in pockets, pursing his mouth, Ricky turned away. At least he now had something definite, a price and a purchase, to aim at He strolled more confidently bettveen the sideshows, quite forgetful of the racket and color around him. intent on finding a breeding ground for the coins in his pocket.

This sort of thing, tossing small rings at awkwardly shaped prizes, was useless. Even if you won you could hardly persuade the pale girl to do a swap. The coconut-shies, where he might have had some success, were m better. If he won at all it would have to be money. For a while he hung round a stall where people were rolling pennies on a red-and-white checkboard and winning or losing according to whether their coins dropped in a square or across the lines. But he soon saw that most of them were losing, and even when they won it was only a few pennies at a time.

He moved on down the green alley between the booths. The din in his ears had trumpeted, squealed and shouted itself into monotony and he went on listlessly, his face set in a stiff smile.

Two young girls, arm in arm, giggling huskily, their glances darting on all sides, walked slowly by. The visitors to the resort, driven from the beach by the wind, thronged about him, jostling him as he walked, laughing, disputing, teasing, lining up to have their fortunes told, to see the hermaph-

rodite, to buy ice cream and pink lemonade. A tall lugubrious man with a sagging belly like a kangaroo, strolling by. hawked thickly in his throat, spat into the grass, and carefully set his foot on the spit. Three boys older than himself, elegantly dressed in dark blue blazers and grey flannels, were standing beside a skittle alley. They stared pointedly at his khaki shorts and dirty sand shoes. The tallest made some remark to the orhers and they all laughed noisily, staring at him. challenging him to show signs of resentment. He saw they were waiting for an excuse to accost him and pick a quarrel, and he hurried on. He was careful not to look round but his hack felt exposed and cold. There was a knot of men in front of him. standing in front of an open booth, and he slipped in among them, threading his way to the counter. He was relieved to sense the men’s bodies closing up ltehind him, hemming him in.

“Well, who’s next?” the man behind the counter was saying. He looked down at Ricky and grinned across at the men above the boy’s head. Then he stooped confidentially. “You want to try your luck, young shaver?”

“No,” Ricky said promptly. He had no intention of being drawn into a contest before he had sized it up and he was faintly repelled by the condescension in the man’s voice and his un-South African accent. Then he noticed a board, bright orange, at the hack of the booth, painted in large blue

FIVE SHIES A SHILLING! WIN FIVE SHILLINGS!

FIVE TO ONE'

"What do I shy at?”

The heavily built man in charge of the stall stepped elaborately aside. He was evidently something of a wag, in his own eyes at least.

"Observe,” he said, his hand flourishing largely. "Yonder we have Bi-see/,--le. Bi-s«7:-le notice. Hie vele may he good enough for you and me, but not for him. He is mounted, as you see. on a wooden seat. And the seat, in turn, is mounted on a bar or beam. And at the other end of the beam we have the target or mark. For t modest outlay I provide you with ammunition for the aforesaid target —to wit, cricket balls. Five of them. You throw. You throw accurately. You hit the bull. What happens? A catch is sprung, the bar is released, the bar tilts, and Bi-see£-le is deposited, to the delight of all present, into the tub of sea water which, as you see, awaits him below.” He paused, sniffing, acknowledging the rather contemptuous chuckles of the men standing round. “More than that Not only do you provide us all with some spon. and Bi-see/.-le with a ducking. you also provide yourself with the sum—not princely perhaps, but not to be sneezed at either—of five bob."

The heavy florid face inclined toward Ricky again. "Well,” he said sharply, “what d’you think of that?”

The bov rea ized the barker was simply using him. talking into him as he might have talked into a microphone. It was the men standing behind whom he was really addressing. Even a grown man would have found it difficult to hit so small a target, and the booth was long and narrow, so that you had to throw hard. The pickaninny called Bicycle, dressed only in r garment like a nightshirt, looked small and forlorn on his perch. He was dripping wet and the wind, catching him in the shadow of the canvas roof, kept him constantly shivering. Every now and then he fell into a hout of coughing, his little bodydoubling up painfully. At the other end of the pivoted bar was the target

! a deceptively large disc of wood with a small black bull.

Ricky took his eyes off the pickaninny and put one of his shillings on the counter. “I’ll have a shot.”

“Splendid! Splendid!” The barker’s voice was unctuously patronizing. Obviously he hadn't expected the boy to accept his challenge. “Five balls for the younger generation,” he added, fishing them up from under the counter. “Everything ready for the plunge.”

Ricky picked up a cricket ball. It felt comfortable in his hand, but heavy to throw so far. The men standing round moved back, giving him room to swing his arm.

I “Hey, look at this, man!” said a ! voice behind him. “He’s just about as small as that little black devil up

Ricky swung back, gathered himself, and tried to throw the ball high and slow. But he didn’t put enough force behind it and it fell short, rapping the j lower edge of the wooden disc. At I least it was straight. There was a murmur of encouragement.

“Mooi skoot.'”

“Nice work. kid. Try it a bit harder.”

Another ball, feeling heavier than the first. He threw it hard enough I this time but it swung over to the ! left and almost missed the target j altogether.

“Hey! Come on! You can do better than that.”

The muscles in his shoulder started to ache and he knew he could not afford to throw too often. He picked up the third ball and balanced it in his hand, measuring the distance to the target with his eye. Then with an easy fluent swing he sent it flying up the length of the booth.

There was a sharp clear clack from the wood, the beam thudded across and the little Zulu pitched into the t water, on his face. Ricky could hear the exclamations of the men behind him, felt one of them slapping him warmly on the back, but he stood quite still, watching the tub of water. Would the pickaninny get out of it all right? Surely you could be drowned, falling face-first into a tub of water like that? He was relieved to see the small sodden figure climb out. Bicycle crawled up onto his perch and the barker swung the beam back until it was level again. For a minute the small black face was directed at the group in front of the booth. Then it was hidden as another bout of coughing caught him. It was a frightful cough, as though the small chest was tearing itself open.

The barker came back to the counter, his heavy red face scornfully smiling. He put two half crowns and Ricky’s original shilling on the wooden counter. The two balls that the boy had not I used he quickly removed.

“So my friends. It seems we have a prodigy in our midst. Five shies are two too many for him.” He stooped forward as he had done before, bringing his face uncomfortably close. “Have another go? You’re not finished, you know. The soul of liberality, that’s me. Everyone can have another turn. Besides this is rather special, isn’t it? Youth versus youth, you might say. What d’you say?”

Not quite realizing what he was doing, remembering only that it was imperative to win again. Ricky picked up the half crowns, leaving his shilling on the counter. There were mutters of approval behind him.

“All right," he said softly.

Five more balls on the counter. The barker stepped aside, giving them a sight of the Little Zulu again. He had stopped coughing and sat quietly, the I wind whipping the wet nightshirt

against his dangling legs. As they watched he fell into a fit of shivering, his shoulders jerking in convulsive spasms.

“Man, look at that poor little harstard shiver! Looks almost as if lie was dancing, doesn't he? There's one chap who hopes you miss!”

The barker smiled his sneering smile. 'Don't you worn,' about Bi-see£-le. He's used to it. How about me? I stand to lose five bob. don't I?“

Ricky picked up the first ball and sent it flying. It was close, but not quite close enough.

"Ampertjies. jong’.”

"Hard luck! Never mind, you’ve got four more.”

Feeling rather sick he picked up the next. As the ball left his hand he had seen the Zulu boy flinch, hugging himself as if he expected it to hit him. He had no confidence in the next throw and it went wide, striking the canvas at the back of the booth, much too lotv.

“Getting a bit tired, eh?” The barker made no attempt to keep the note of satisfaction out of his voice. "Well, well. You can't have everythin?, you know.”

Ricky’s shoulder was painful now and he felt shaky from the effort to throw beyond his strength. He drew back again, the third ball in his hand, and swung his arm. But one of the men behind had moved forward and his arm brushed against him as he threw, disturbing his balance. The ball pitched straight at the Zulu on the perch and it was only by leaping quickly off his seat that he avoided it. This time he fell upright into the water, with a smaller splash.

“Hey! That’s not the way to do it!”

“It’s not the kid’s fault. It’s you. Yes. you. You knocked his arm.”

“Come on. stand back. jons'. Give him room.”

Bicycle was back on his perch in a few seconds, climbing onto it from the edge of the tub. His dark face was quite expressionless. It seemed that he took the extra ducking as a matter of

"Well,” said the barker. “I wouldn’t call that exactly orthodox, but you're not the first to try it. I may as well point out that Bi-«er/.--le is quite prepared for the more homicidal of our customers. So unless you're only concerned to give him few extra wettings — which.” he put in heavily, "judging by the vehemence of your throw I’m prepared to doubt—you'll have to do a good deal better than that.” He stood aside, scratching his stomach with his grimy hands, winking and grinning over Ricky’s head.

Ricky hated him. hated his ponderous sentences and his overripe voice. Suddenly he hated the lot

of them. He snatched up a cricket ball and. venting his feelings in the a tion. flung it hard and high and .-t'night at the target, hardly feeling the sharp twinge in his shoulder.

Clack’.

There was a cheer as the Zulu ¡dunged off his perch again, smacking flat on the svater. The men were clapping Ricky on the back. He stood miserably, watching for the dripping figure to emerge from the tub. The barker bustled up. pushing the silver coins across the counter to him.

"No more. That’s the rule, gents, isn't it? Disqualified after two wins. Move along now. Give someone else a turn. Come on. boy. Pick up your money. D’you want me to keep it? How much more do you want?” He smiled lopsidedlv at the bystanders. "Thirty pieces, that’s what he wants. Thinks he's Judas. Come on. get out of the way.”

Mechanically Ricky put the coins

into his pocket, turning and ducking away between the grinning onlookers. He felt shaky and faint and a heavy spittle of disgust had collected so thickly in his throat that he had to pause behind a canvas booth to get rid of it. He stood there for a while, deaf tc the sounds of the fairground and grateful for the freshness of the seawind blowing in his face.

THE SUN had set and the late summer sky was fading to pearl, with here and there a smudge of sorrel cloud, as John Makanya came down the sandy path. His feet kept falling into step with the march-tune that blew across from' the fair. Then he would break the rhythm, walking faster. There was something derisive in the jaunty blare of the music and it irritated him to submit to it.

A small figure in khaki appeared on the slope below him and he struck off across the dimming grass to meet it. Apart from the two of them the long sweep of pasture down to the rocky coast was deserted: anyone not at

supper was probably at the fair.

Ricky was walking slowly, with his head down. He looked up as the Zulu approached. “Hallo John. Are you off?"

“Baas Reecky, you better hurry. Meess Ellen she’s been looking for you. Eet’s past seven o’clock.”

The boy paid no attention. "Look here.” he said. “I bought a present.” He handed Makanya the book he had been carrying. It was obviously secondhand. stained and battered. The Zulu looked at the spine: The Law of the

Constitution. Ricky looked tired. What had he been up to?

“Ees thees for your mother?”

“Of course not. It’s for you. Is it a good book9”

“Very good, yes.” No point in telling the boy he already had a copy, packed away with his other books at home. “But what about your mother? Deed you get something for her?”

“I got the book at the news agent’s. He’s got a whole lot of old books at the back of his shop. One and six. That’s cheap isn't it? I've got two shillings to give back to Ellen too.” “What about the present for your

mother. Baas Reecky? Deed you get

Ricky unbuttoned his shirt and showed a glimpse of a cardboard box. “It's a glass windmill. I don’t want it to get broken."

He sounded so indifferent the Zulu was about to question him further: but he restrained himself. It was none of his business.

“Don't you like the book?”

“Yes. indeed. I'm jaast concerned...'

“Look here John, you’ve got to go back to college. You must. I want you to go back. Say you will. John.”

Makanya had almost forgotten his own affairs. Now the oppressive weight of consciousness descended again. Looking down into the boy's eyes, the impetuosity and bafflement in them, he felt suddenly heavy with despair, like a patient reminded of his disease. All the misery and frustration trembled in him again, ready to come flooding back. But he repressed it. forcing it down.

"I cannot say so now. Baas Reecky.” He hardly realized that he had spoken, looking at the boy. He saw that Ricky’s expression was strained and intense. Surely he hadn't spent

the whole afternoon brooding over their conversation?

“I weell theenk about it again,” he said, trying to sound as if he meant it. Anyway, he reflected bitterly, in one sense it was perfectly true.

“You must John! You must!” The fierce young voice demanded reassurance. Dropping his eyes Makanya saw a shell in the grass beside his shoe. He put his foot on it. grinding it into the earth. The earnestness in the boy's voice touched him more closely than he wanted to admit. What reassurance could he give? He tried to smile.

forcing the rising brusqueness out of his voice.

“You better hurry. Meess Ellen weel] want to see what you bought.”

“Are you really going to think about

“Yes, Baas Reecky. I promise I

Giving the boy no time to reply he turned away. Their figures moved apart on the wan green of the pasture, Makanya going slowly down toward the shore, without looking back. He breathed deeply, inhaling the fresh wet air. A group of Zulus who had spent the afternoon hanging over the fence that enclosed the fairground, fascinated by the diversions they were not allowed to enjoy, were strolling homeward along the empty beach. As they walked they chanted softly, but the booming of the surf drowned the words of their song. He paused, watching them pass on the darkened sand. Behind them the thin exhausted waves came running in. shining like steel in the dusk.

The air was turning chilly now but in his abstraction he did not notice it. He came to a sunken sandy path that led down to the beach and made his way along it. moving down between the gentle slopes of the grass-entangled dunes. Out on the beach the sand was soft and still warm from the sun. He plodded through it, making for the water, and when it grew firm and wet underfoot he turned aside, skirting the yellowish line of drying foam that marked the reach of the waves. Here the walking was easier and. as he went on. he opened the book and glanced at the pages, reading here and there. There were marginal annotations in pencil and at the sight of them a wave of nostalgia swept up in him.

Feeling desperate, and shocked to find how violent the feeling was, he snapped the book shut again. Something in him was famished, silently shrieking for the learning, the discipline of thought, to which it had grown accustomed. He had had no notion that it could be so powerful, so implacably demanding. Involuntarily he quickened his pace.

The noise of the fair was far off and now he walked with only the thunderous drumming of the surf in his ears, and the soft cold swishing of the spent waves. He went on across the beach until he came to the rocks that blocked it off from the next bay. Skirting the dull rock pools and hesitating from rock to rock he made his way along the broken surface of the promontorv until he came to the point where it fell suddenly away below him. into the sea. Here, grateful for the loneliness of the situation, he sat down on the damp stone. To right and left of him the Natal coast looped away, bay after bay of it. into the dusk. Below him the heavy black swell of the sea rose and fell, rose and fell, palely foaming where it met the angles of the rocks. It was like sitting on the end of a pier, a pier that had been smashed flat by the sea so that now it was nothing but a straggling jumble of huge stones.

He sat for a long time there, without moving, dimly aware of the darkness drawing in around him The book that the boy had given him lay on the rock beside him. The sky grew darker and as the light died away the line of the horizon disappeared. Blowing in off the sea the wind turned colder. High on the rock, exposed to the spray that blew across, damping his shirt, Makanya began to shiver. He sat looking down, sightlessly, not noticing the shuddering of his shoulders.

Below, as if waiting for some force to fling him from his perch, the Indian Ocean heaved and subsided, the white foam tossing on the unfathomable blackness of the water, if